On Monday, it was with a predominantly white South African and expat group. After work, I trekked out to Table View, a neighborhood about 30 minutes north of city centre along the coast to play with my summer league soccer team. The quality of competition isn’t the highest as we managed our second blowout win of the season with a 7-0 score line, outdone in our season opener at 9-0. Evidently, our purpose in the league isn’t so much focused on playing against the best from around the region. From what I’ve gathered as the new player on the team is that it’s about the brotherhood off the pitch.

On Thursday, it was a mixture of Germans, residents of Gugulethu and Khayelitsha, and the odd American. AMANDLA had its end of year celebration in which we made our way into the middle of city centre to a 5-a-side turf pitch on the top level of a parking garage. Staff from both local Safe-Hubs, Khayelitsha and Gugulethu-Manenberg came together with the Support Office staff for a braai, a small tournament, and board games. I played alongside Yanga, a former professional South African and Jakob, a German and one of AMANDLA’s Managing Directors. Through teamwork and a bit of grit, we managed to secure the championship in relatively comfortable fashion.

On Friday, it was the boys of Khayelitsha. Long on my ‘to do’ list was a Friday night trip to the township to play in the Crime Prevention League (CPL). The 5-a-side season was coming to an end and I was afforded the opportunity to join one of our staff members’ teams for the last couple games. Beyond the official matches, I had the chance to kick around before with some of the boys and play some hold-the-court-style 5-a-side. We played until just before 1am under the lights at the CTC Ten Safe-Hub on Saturday morning.

Cape Town, it has come to my attention, may be the most beautiful city in the world. With mountains and oceans within reasonable distance of one another, and exceptional weather year-round, it has all the aesthetics boxes checked. Dig a little deeper, though, and for as beautiful as Cape Town is, it’s also complicated and tragic. Hiding along the outskirts of the city and in vacant lots around town are those who have not yet felt the benefit of the post-apartheid era. 22 years on, it is evident that social change and social equality have a tendency to lag behind legislative change.

The change that seemed to be promised to a post-apartheid South Africa has an unknown date-of-delivery. All I can say is that it’s a long way off. Social and systemic changes don’t happen overnight. They don’t happen within a year and often enough, they don’t happen within a decade. They can take a generation or more. It’s a slow change spurred along by thousands of NGO workers, community leaders, politicians, and law makers.

While I’ve heard sports being likened to a mood enhancer at the highest levels of international politics—the candles and music at a classy dinner—I can guarantee you that at the grassroots level, they can feel like the main course. In a matter of five days, I played alongside all people from the entire spectrum of Cape Town society. On the field, as cliché as it sounds, a 27 year old guy from Stratham, NH, a New England town of 7000 people could find fluidity and rhythm with any of them. It is on a common platform such as soccer that dialogues can happen. It is in dialogues that change can gain traction. It is in change, slowly but surely, that we can begin to see a better world and a better future.

If nothing else—if not the dialogue, change, and better future—the game can still manage to provide those men from Camps Bay, employees from AMANDLA, and kids from Khayelitsha with the necessary but temporary escape we all need on a Friday night  after a long week of good or bad or both.

 

If you’re looking for more on the  sport-for-development world from a different lens, check out my other blog hosted through Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society here. Thanks for listening in!